I’m having an identity crisis. Partially. It makes sense. Losing a parent and experiencing life changes cause some interesting feelings and impulses to arise. What’s familiar, is the part of me that has always been fascinated with trying on new hats, new activities, and new versions of myself. It’s the part of me always seeking to evolve, shed my old skins, integrate my past, and burst forth into my present. Like a child deciding what to be when they grow up, I feel like I’ve been all over the place; I am perpetually wanderlust and curious.
The past few years could be summarized as “I’ll be a dancer, I’ll be an actor, I’ll date women, I’ll go back to men, I’ll dye my hair blonde, I’ll be a pole dancer, I’ll be vegan, I’ll be anything but vegan, I’ll be a teacher, I’ll dye my hair purple, I’ll be a mixed martial arts fighter, I’ll backtrack, I’ll go hiking, I’ll stop everything, I’ll go back to it, I’ll get a tattoo, I’ll get four tattoos, I’ll go meditate, I’ll go throw myself in the grass and dance until grass stains are permanently in my leggings, and now I know myself. Now I don’t…ah! Yep, that’s totally me.”
Perhaps this is what is supposed to happen in the years called the 20s. I’ve enjoyed it thus far. Though I’ve been in this ebb and flow rhythm with myself before, it feels uncharacteristically unstructured lately.
It feels like this bedroom: a scattered mess of my past meets my present in unorganized piles across different parts of the floor. Off the ground, my bookshelf and nightstand appear neatly organized. The spines of the books are colorfully lined up in their rows. At a glance, they are well arranged, but in content, they are all over the place. Ronda Rousey’s My Fight/Your Fight sits next to the The Soul of Rumi by Coleman Barks. A couple books down is Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. The second shelf has a row of theater books and binders of music that I kept from college, followed by yoga teacher training books on the shelf below that. The very bottom has an interesting blend of school yearbooks and equestrian manuals like the USDF Guide to Dressage. Intermixed with all these books include trinkets and nature things, like a California pinecone, a stick from a favorite tree in New York, a child’s “First Baptism” porcelain night light cover, a mini Jameson bottle from a Los Angeles film shoot in a liquor store, a basket of shells, some playbills, and a pair of sunglasses. When I list all of this, I’m not worried about how it all goes together. It makes sense. It just is. I feel comforted in my multifaceted experiences and interests. It may be an odd combination to some, but to me, it radiates authenticity.
The hardest part about writing these posts consistently is that it is challenging to find the lessons when I am in the middle of learning them. It is easier to look back over the past few months and tell you how perfectly timed it all was that I moved to New York when I did, how perfect it was that I moved back home in time to be with my mom in her last month on Earth, how moving from Krav Maga out east to an MMA gym back home set up my foundation for classes and grounded my energy like none other. I can connect the dots and say how everything came together to make me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong for this transition time. It’s easier to look back and say, “that’s what it was all about!” while looking forward can feel like a daunting shadow of “um…what’s next? I can’t see a thing.”
I saw my first cage fight a few weeks ago and felt exhilarated. I told my trainer and gym family that I wanted to do that someday. Yesterday, I read articles on horrible brain damage that can happen from MMA, and it was disheartening. Of course, it probably is never a good idea to get the shit beat out of you, but the intention is to win fiercely. No one signs up to lose. I love training for something that requires extreme discipline and physical conditioning. It’s the dancer in me that thrives when her life is structured around an ambitious goal, a major performance, and a chance to be in the spotlight. Is it an ego driven desire? Maybe. Probably. It’s so “out there,” and I like it.
I’d only fight if I knew dead certain that I would win mercilessly. However, to be a merciless person is not in my default nature. I’m writing a yoga blog, I talk to dragonflies when I need their advice, I walk barefoot to align my energy with mother nature, and I am my mother’s daughter. Like the life she led, I’ll fight for justice, stand for love, and speak my truth with compassion, power, and eloquence, but naturally, I wouldn’t gravitate toward blood and violence for sport, entertainment, or a possible career. And as an amateur, is the risk of injury and impact worth the experience? After reading some horror stories and finishing Rousey’s memoir, I’ve developed mixed feelings about the MMA sport. There’s so much ego. There must be. There’s no room to be considerate of your opponent. Everything happens so fast. It seems like the minute one person thought of anything besides winning, they’d end up with a brutal beat down to the end. Yet, damn, it’s just so exciting!
Most people know me for my lightness of being and free spirit. I know I’ve surprised some friends and family with my passion for fighting, but I’ve also inspired other women to find their inner fire and look the world in the eyes. I love that phrase. I used to take photographs or make dance videos where I danced more internally, or posed with my gaze low in a coy way. There’s power in eye contact. On a literal and figurative level, I regularly stare back, fiercely. I don’t look away or minimize myself to what is “appropriate” or traditionally feminine. I love an audience, but a great artist makes people uncomfortable. I like breaking out of whatever box someone has put me in. I would much rather be a tigress in the jungle, than a doe in the woods.
Back to the science of knockouts and the dangers of the sport, I begun to feel discouraged about where this fighting journey would lead, wondering if I should adjust my goals, and how I could train hard, have fun, and not destroy myself. My dad reminded me that the goal of the dojo and the martial arts master, was to master the body and the mind. It was intended so that one would have the skills to fight, to be able to defend themselves and their community, but the knowledge, discipline, and restraint to use it only when necessary. Though I currently train at a competitive mixed martial arts gym I love, where my friends are amazing, savage fighters, perhaps I’ll later join a dojo as well, for balance with a more traditional martial art style.
Time will reveal what this training becomes for me. It’s natural to want to be the best and aspire for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, like when I’ve wanted to be on Broadway or in Hollywood for the pinnacle of an acting career. It’s satisfying to pursue something to the max. To say I’ve acted on both coasts as a professional, is amazing.
On a day to day level, I’m deeply grateful for this sport, my community, and our trainers. Thus far, it has helped prepare me for this challenging life chapter, where I’m now traveling without the greatest warrior and hero of my life, my Momma. Perhaps I train in mixed martial arts to become the healthiest, strongest, most athletic version of myself I can be. Perhaps that training becomes my conditioning for another athletic endeavor to come.
My mom gave me a name that she thought would make an awesome professional golfer. I’ve thought of that a lot, though I never really got into golf. Bonnie Bairley: The actor? The fighter? The author? The choreographer? The activist?
The being. I’ll choose that for now. Titles may provide a career trajectory or show where we ideally could go with our passions, but at this moment, I’d like to abandon all my current titles, and the prospective ones I might consider taking on someday. The truth is, at this moment, I’m not willing to die for MMA glory. I might not ever be a world champion in the sport because of that. Maybe I’m just not willing to risk it all like Ronda Rousey talked about her in memoir. It’s cool. I’m digging the journey. Who knows, I might surprise myself.
Perhaps it will end up as a book on my shelf: “Healing the Caged Soul – Finding the Spirituality in Combat Sports.” Who would write a book like that? That brings two seemingly opposite things together? Only the crazy, ever flowing, Bonnie “the Bridge” Bairley. 😊